The Relational Aspect of Addiction

October 1, 2015 Length: 40:03

Fr. Christophe addresses the relational aspect of addiction, explaining that all members of a family have a part in treating addiction.

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Kontakion 2, Ikos 2: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On seeing the heartfelt sorrow and the tortures of soul of those possessed by the destructive vice of drunkenness as well as their true repentance, thou has graciously willed, O most-holy Lady, to show thy mercy to the God-saved city of Serpukhov by the appearance of thy miraculous icon, the Inexhaustible Cup, so that all who fall down before it with faith and contrite hearts, having received healing from this grievous illness, may thus, from the depth of their hearts, cry out to God: Alleluia!

Having understood the meaning of the three-fold apparition of St. Varlaam and his instruction to go to the God-saved city of Serpukhov, the alcoholic man obeyed. There in the monastery he found thy holy icon called the Inexhaustible Cup. Seeing the very same stamp upon ourselves, we cry to thee with reverence: Rejoice, revealer to sinners of the glory of thy wonders, through those who are pure in heart; rejoice, discerning guide showing the way of salvation! Rejoice, good leader drawing us forward with thy love; rejoice, teacher of thankfulness for all thy blessings! Rejoice, transformation turning our sorrows to joy; rejoice, support girding us with steadfast hope! Rejoice, destroyer of our destructive passions; rejoice, cause making fruit our good intentions! Rejoice, O Sovereign Lady, thou Inexhaustible Cup that quenches our spiritual thirst!

I’d like to welcome all of you to this second podcast on the topic of Healing Addictions: The Orthodox Method of Treatment. As you recall, in my first podcast, I gave you an overview of the three major addictions that I am going to be discussing. Alcoholism and drugs is the first; the second the topic of the sexual addiction; and the third the topic of the relationship disease which comes as a result of the effects of having been raised in a dysfunctional home or around a parent who was addicted. And as I explained to you before, we are dealing and we know that addictions have been passed down over the generations. We will be discussing ancestral sin and its effect over the generations, and we have the hope that all that are inquiring will understand that there are wonderful methods of treatment within the Orthodox Church to address the powers of addictions in our lives.

My name is Fr. Christophe Lepoutre. For those of you that do not know me, I am the rector of the chapel of the Mother of God, the Inexhaustible Cup, in Natural Bridge Station, Virginia. I want to thank our contributors, those that participate in the Fellowship of the Inexhaustible Cup that is sponsoring this entire broadcast. I encourage anyone who has benefited by these talks to take a look at our website: www.inexhaustiblecup.org for further information on how to join us in our ministry of intercession for one another, which is what the Fellowship’s primary purpose is. I also want to thank all the staff members of Ancient Faith Radio for this opportunity.

As I pick up where I left off, I want to discuss some important principles that we know about the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. What I wanted to begin with was for everyone to understand that wherever there is an addicted individual, there is always someone or more than one person participating in the very affliction or addiction that that family member has. We will see this predominantly when we take a look at the family and marriage, because if there is one member of the marriage that’s afflicted with an addiction, usually the spouse and others are equally afflicted in their own way. They may not be addicted like the alcoholic or drug addict, but they are afflicted in their own way. I’m going to try to spell out what that affliction looks like for them, and it’s important that we understand that we are dealing with a family disease in all addictions. The 12-step recovery program makes this perfectly clear. There is never one spouse that is afflicted without the other. There isn’t a child in a family that is just a problem, so to speak, and just inherited affliction out of nowhere. It is always related and comes back to what’s happened in the marriage in the first place.

Since we understand that addictions and ancestral sin is passed down over the generations, we need to also consider that there are the parents of those that are afflicted, and then their parents, and their parents. We are going to address and discuss the topic of praying for the souls of the reposed a little later on, because that is one of the most powerful methods of treatment within the Orthodox Church to break the chain, the slavery, of addictions over the generations. We believe that prayer for the reposed has a direct effect and can literally reverse the affliction that a family member carries today in the here and now. We will discuss that further.

From the 12-step point of view, we recognize that Al-Anon was introduced almost immediately upon the historical beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is now well over 50 years old. Al-Anon simultaneously was birthed at that time, because the spouses of alcoholics and addicts recognized that in their own way, they had been deeply affected by alcoholism or the addiction of the person they were in relationship to. Al-Anon is a wonderful 12-step fellowship that helps anyone that’s been in relationship to someone addicted to precisely get at where it is that people in relationship to an addict could be contributing to the disease. From a 12-step program perspective, we call that enabling.

If we go further and take a look at what traditional therapists have taught over the years, there is an entire school which is called “family systems theory” which talks about the fact that families are interconnected, family members are interconnected, and there is no one individual that is on their own. They have a strong emphasis on considering that everyone has a part in the treatment of any known illness, and that the family primarily is ill, or the marriage is ill, not just an individual. We need to be very, very careful, from their point of view, and I really have agreed with them, that there is really not too much room for having a child afflicted, a young person with an addiction, where we end up putting them in a box, so to speak, and they become a problem child.

Family systems theory and my own experience has taught me there’s not much room for that, because a young person or child is a member of a family, and usually if they’re addicted, there is a reason. It will go back to what’s been going on in the marriage, and then it will also include the influence of other parents over the generations and how they raised their children, and how addictions pass down, year after year, one generation after another. But it’s important that we do not put children of being too much of a problem that needs to be solved. The family needs to be brought help and healing, and a marriage when a young person or child is afflicted.

It’s important if we take the Orthodox perspective on this whole topic to consider that—and I agree with this idea that there is often someone contributing to the problem, which Al-Anon speaks about when there’s an addict in a family—it’s important to recognize that primarily from an Orthodox perspective, we believe that the Lord himself created man and woman and the sacrament of marriage and the opportunity to share in his creative ability to have a child and to be a parent as he is a parent to all of us, as he has given birth to each and every one of us—it’s important to recognize that the Lord himself is relational.

The blessed Trinity, the holy and blessed Trinity, the mystery of the relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit needs to be incorporated in our whole perspective on why it is that someone is not just an isolated member of a family. The Lord himself is in deep relationship. The Father is one with the Son, and the Son is one with the Holy Spirit, and they together are one in essence—three different Persons, but one in essence. And they are in relationship with each other. Our whole life needs to include experiencing our relationship with him and being freed from the bondages of sin in order for us to experience the love of God, which is expressed in the blessed Trinity.

We know that God is love and is light, and God is humble. He also carries the attributes of obedience. The Son of God, the Word, the Ruler of all, he was born of the Virgin Mary and lived an exemplary life of submitting himself in humility and obedience to his Father, all the way to the point of being willing, freely, to take upon himself the consequences of sin and to suffer and die on the cross and rise from the dead. We’re going to recognize that we all affect each other in relationship, and we’ve been made to be in relationship to him and to one another. That’s the basis of a true validity of whatever we speak about when those traditional therapists talk about family systems and how we’re interconnected. We are interconnected because God himself is interconnected, and he created us this way. Glory to his holy and blessed Trinity!

Now, what is the solution to the person who’s afflicted equally when they are in relationship to an addicted parent or an addicted spouse or an addicted member of the family, a young adult or child? The solution is to take one’s preoccupation away from considering that the problem is that child or that person addicted, and to focus on their own emotional and spiritual growth, because from the 12-step point of view, those that are members of Al-Anon, they learned that they are powerless over alcohol, and that their lives would become less manageable, but it’s not so much the substance of alcohol—because they’re not alcoholic—it’s what they call the isms of the disease, the manner, the thinking, the tendency to be self-centered, to carry resentment, to have not established a life of faith and prayer. The addict is struggling with this; the one in relationship often has this same problem.

They’re powerless over the effects of alcoholism more than anything else, but they take the same steps. The step reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and alcoholism, and all of the ways that everyone has been affected.” Their priority begins to shift from giving up on trying to control the alcoholic, which is a problem and in the second part of the first step, we discussed life becoming unmanageable, which means that we’re losing control over how we manage or try to manage others in our lives, including the one that’s afflicted—and the solution is to focus on oneself and to learn those ways in which we have possibly not learned to set proper boundaries in relationship. Ultimately the program talks about detaching with love.

From the Orthodox perspective, we have to recognize that this is an impossible task. The solution is to trust God, for he and only he can heal the alcoholic and the addict. And we also, those that are in relationship, must avail ourselves [of] him and him alone to a certain degree for being healed of the way in which we often, without even knowing it, are participating in the problem: by minimizing the consequences of the alcoholic’s actions, by denying the exact nature of the irresponsibility and actions of the alcoholic or addict. That person in relationship needs to avail themselves equally [of] the Lord God for their own healing, and we will later discover and talk more specifically about the illness that has come as a result of the effects of addictions over the generations, which is a relationship disease we call co-dependency.

And that enabler, or that person in relationship to the addict, is often enabling the problem because they themselves have not learned to trust God. They have often been denied a childlike learning to pray and have their own relationship with the Lord so that they are more involved in prayer and knowing what to do in the face of an affliction instead of taking the matter too much into their own hands and trying to control and to change and to exert a power over their circumstances, people, places, and things, that they are not able or should not be involved in. Only the Lord can be the one that is truly the power greater than ourselves that the program speaks about.

So we know that addictions are passed down over the generations. Let me speak about that for a few minutes. The effects, both positively and negatively, are often four, five, six generations or more that go back where addictions have been passed down, and tendencies, from one set of parents unto their children have been passed down. We do acknowledge within the Orthodox Church that there is such a thing as ancestral sin, and that without the grace of God intervening in any given generation to change the patterns of the past and to remove sin and to bring healing and treatment to the ones that are afflicted by any addiction, that the disease will carry on to the next generation. But we recognize, and the Scripture is very clear about how on one hand the acts of an unrighteous individual, or someone heavily involved in a pattern of sin, has extremely negative effects upon the next generation and generations to come.

But the good news is that the Word is clear that the action of the love of God and the Holy Spirit upon a marriage in the here and now, or at any time in the history of mankind, has an equal progressive and wonderful movement of a dispensation of the fruits of the Holy Spirit when an individual in a marriage or, in the best scenario, a marriage itself, turns and acknowledges their own sin and evil ways, and through repentance avail themselves [of] Almighty God. The whole purpose of the spiritual life and the relationship we have with Almighty God is for him to help each of us, his children, to gain in our level of humility and working on our repentance so that we can rely upon him and on his love to remove the obstacles that keep us apart, the consequences of sin.

We see that in the history of mankind, when one person or two turn from their sins and live an exemplary life and seek righteousness and holiness, that God is at work and is able to reverse years of slavery and the addictions and the patterns of sin. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to give us this hope, and it is very real. We see how a marriage that can avail themselves [of] the Lord can bring forth fruit, and its effect can go on for generations upon those that come after them and upon the entire body of Christ and the whole Church.

The greatest example of this that I know of is the wonderful life of Ss. Joachim and Anna. Here, if we examine that relationship, we see a married couple who together has carried a certain burden or cross and has had to wrestle with their own disbelief, but by remaining faithful, by abiding by the commandments of the Lord and persisting in their prayer unto the Lord, we know that Anna became barren and was not able to bear a child, but at a late age, together they availed themselves [of] the Lord, and they did not give up on their life of faithfulness. They trusted God, and they continued to ask him for the gift of a child. They believe in the impossible, which is what we all have to come to in our own spiritual life. We see how, by their faithfulness, the Lord answered their prayer.

As we also know, they had a certain deep relationship with Almighty God and they made their own deal, their own pact with Almighty God, and we know, historically, that they said to the Lord, “If you grant us this gift, we will consecrate this child to you,” and the fruit of all of that and our hope in this topic of how we are related to each other and what we need to do is that we see that the Mother of God herself was the fruit of those parents and their relationship to Almighty God. As we know, at the proper time, she was consecrated in the temple, and she began a preparation herself at a very young age to avail herself [of] Almighty God to serve in his kingdom, and was given the privilege, based on her exemplary life of humility and chastity and obedience, to actually bear, to be called by name by the Lord God, and in the Annunciation to be given the privilege of having the Word of God literally be conceived in her womb, and for her to become the Theotokos, and the gift of who she is today. We all strongly believe and appreciate this gift [which] came as a result of a faithful marriage.

We can see the power of God and what he wants to do in all of us, because it is time for us to recognize where sin and the chain and the slavery of addictions and their effects—patterns of resentment, fear, pride, jealousy, lust—all of our sins can be reversed, and we have an example of what happens when one person becomes righteous and has its effect on another. Of course, we see here the power of the sacrament of marriage itself at work and what all marriages are called to.

Having recognized this from the Orthodox perspective, the key and what I want to stress today is that the solution to the problem of addictions in any one person, if you’re in relationship to them, fundamentally comes down to working on oneself and walking more humbly, and instead of exercising too much control and will and attempts to change the affliction, which we have no power to do, the person needs to walk humbly themselves and get a restoration themselves on how they may lack trust in God, ultimately, for the afflicted one and themselves. That includes our children and anyone else that we carry the burden when we are in relationship to the addict or the afflicted one.

So God calls us to the impossible odds, like Joachim and Anna, of reversing the generation’s effects of sin by our lives and our willingness to repent and to walk faithfully. Most importantly, it is a joint effort. If the afflictions have been passed down and a family’s afflicted and a marriage is afflicted, God calls marriages today to be healed themselves, personally and together as a couple. Together, the negative effects of addictions are going to be reversed in the here and now. It is a wonderful testimony for the fact that we are in relationship to one another that there is great purpose to our relationship to our Almighty God and that we need each other to heal. One of the most difficult situations that I’ve had in the many hours of marriage counseling that I do provide today with the use of the internet, with the use of Skype often, or meeting, people coming and meeting me here in my office or in our chapel, is that there is often this going on in marriages, and all too often one person begins to get better, begins to arrest their issues, their addiction, often, so to speak, through 12-step, and beginning to enter in deeper into the sacramental life of the Church, beginning with holy confession and holy Communion.

More times than [not], I see that the spouse can often sabotage that growth because they’re unwilling to take their part, to look at their own sins enough and to understand that even that afflicted one who is trying to emerge has something to offer them to address their own issues and that God is at work to bring salvation within the sacrament of marriage, and he often chooses a spouse, but he calls by name the other. All too often I’ve seen, for example, the lady of the household begin to heal, and it affects the relationship, it challenges the marriage, so that some of these issues can be addressed; and then we have the head of the household who chooses to not participate in dealing with their own issues and where they have a part in that marriage and where the whole marriage needs a certain level of healing, which the Lord wants to give his people. Without that part, then the sacrament cannot emerge, and these afflictions cannot be overcome, because this is the way God has ordained it, that he has made marriage holy and sacramental for the salvation of each spouse.

But there’s a mystery. We each have to take our part and do our part, and together sin is overcome. This takes a level of humility and obedience, and it will include a relationship with a spiritual father. For [me], in my experience, all of these wonderful things that I’ve talked about have taken place to a certain degree in my own marriage, because we together availed ourselves [of] our spiritual father, and we went through a process by which we each addressed our own affliction, independent of the other, and then addressed our affliction as a marriage, and what we needed. The Lord was gracious. He brought forth a whole movement of inner transformation, where patterns that we had carried, that even have afflicted our two young adult children today, are being reversed. Thanks be to God!

It’s a great and high calling. It’s nothing else other than what he has ordained. We will further talk about the sacrament of marriage later. I will have a couple, at least, podcasts just on this sacrament, which in my opinion is the most therapeutic relationship that God has ever created, overseen and governed by himself, for he is the head of the sacrament of marriage. Couples can avail themselves [of] him for their own healing and recovery.

Let me end this podcast by saying that while the 12-step program talks about removing certain obstacles, our resentments and fear and addressing issues like where lust often can come into the picture and a person can carry more than one addiction, for example, that from the Orthodox perspective, we are all called. From the 12-step recovery program, we’ve got to go beyond technical sobriety, and not just have a level of physical sobriety without the healing of the whole heart and the whole man and the removal of our sins, of our character defects. The Church strongly emphasizes and offers us sanctity as the model by which we do believe that we are all called to be healed individually and then in relationship.

One of my favorite saints is St. John of Kronstadt and his wife Elizabeth. There we see, again, an exemplary life of righteousness and the fruit that a marriage and its effect upon the people, the Russian people of their day, and the thousands that were touched by their ministry as a couple. But we have to recognize that the Orthodox Church calls us, almost to a certain degree, to a higher level of freedom and healing than the program, because it will point to the removal of sin, first and foremost, in our lives.

We are going to have to address those issues that are related to our addictions, like pride and jealousy and other sins, in order for us to have the hope that we will participate and be involved enough in the action of the Holy Spirit, the therapy which the Lord himself, as our divine Physician, desires to grant each and every one of us; and that he calls us to sanctity and the removal of our sins for two fundamental reasons: not only to gain in our intimate relationship with him and for us to experience his love beyond our understanding, for this is part of the healing of the soul that grants us… We will discuss this later; we’ll talk about the second function which will come very soon, which is called the intelligent function of the soul. What we know is that it was made for us to experience the holy mysteries of God, and they’re not acquired by going to school or for us being intellectual and reading about the spiritual life; they’re acquired by our commitment to a life of repentance, to fasting, and to prayer, and for virtue to be dispensed to us by grace as a result of the healing that he offers each and every one of us.

I thank you for having listened again to me today. I appreciate the fact that you have listened today, and I encourage all those that are listening to this podcast to consider that each podcast is interconnected, and hopefully you will all, if you need to, go back and hear the progression, because each podcast is founded on the other, as I attempt to offer the whole Church and all of us the method of treatment, the variety of methods, and the treasure in its variety that the Orthodox Church offers for the healing of all manner of addictions. I thank God especially for the Theotokos and her birth and her relationship to her parents that has given us right now today the ability to turn to the Mother of God, and our Fellowship offers everyone a simple participation by joining her in some daily akathist prayers to combat all of the affects of addictions over the generations. I thank God for the holy Theotokos and for the Inexhaustible Cup herself, who continues to desire to pray for all of us children, that we might heal by the grace of God. Thank you, and I look forward to the next podcast which will come soon.

My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit. Glory to thee, O blessed Trinity; glory to thee! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.